Nothing beats home-grown tomatoes! When the temperatures start dropping in late summer to early fall, getting those last few green tomatoes to ripen seems like an impossible task. So what should you do: pick the still-green tomatoes or leave them on the vine and risk losing them to frost?
The majority of tomato varieties require a temperature of at least 60°F to ripen. Hence, depending on the conditions, some green tomatoes may not ripen at all, and you’ll need to resort to tricks to ripen them faster. In this article, we offer many tips that will help you ripen green tomatoes - both on the vine and after picking them. You can also use many of these tricks to ripen store-bought tomatoes.
If sub-zero weather is still some time away, you can successfully ripen tomatoes on the plant. To speed up the ripening process, keep these handy tricks in mind:
1. Fertilize the plant. Even though the growing season is nearly over, don’t stop fertilizing the plant regularly until you’ve picked the last tomato. Plant food will not only improve the flavor of the tomatoes, but it will also speed up the ripening itself.
2. When the weather dips beneath the seventies at night, most tomato plants will not be able to grow new fruits. Therefore, you can safely trim off any new flowers and buds, as existing flowers only take away energy from the tomato plants - energy that will be otherwise redirected towards ripening existing fruits.
3. Trim away any spotted or otherwise diseased leaves - no need to add more insecticide or fungicide at this point. You can also cut off the tomato plant's lower leaves to boost its capacity to ripen fruit. Optional: remove bruised or unripe fruit to put more energy into well-formed fruit and hurry up the ripening process.
4. Temperatures are dropping faster than expected? Dig up the plant and move it indoors to your garage or garden shed. No need to pot it up if you don’t have a big enough planter - simply wrap the root ball in some old fabric and twine, and keep watering and caring for the plant as usual until the last tomatoes are ripe. Just make sure to provide the plant with some light, even when you move it indoors.
5. Once the tomatoes are fully grown but still green, reduce the watering slightly. This can sometimes force the fruit to ripen faster.
6. When it’s getting really chilly at night, you can cover the plants with clear sheets of plastic overnight.
Related Article: How to Ripen an Avocado in 10 Minutes
Tomatoes can ripen quite fast, so it’s recommended to watch after them every day and pick the vegetable when it’s just right - a ripe tomato should be nice and red (or yellow, or orange, or pink) but not soft just yet.
To pick your tomatoes, all you need to do is hold the tomato and twist it until the fruit is detached from the stem. This will be a fairly easy task if the tomato is ripe.
If you're trying to decide when to pick your tomatoes, know that you don’t have to always wait for them to fully ripen. Tomatoes are among those fruits and veggies that will continue ripening indoors even after you’ve picked them. And this comes especially handy at the end of the season - when night frosts become certain.
To pick a green tomato, use a pair of garden shears and snip the fruit off together with a little bit of the stem. Once you collected all your unripe tomatoes in a basket, don’t put them in the fridge just yet, and use one of the following methods to get them to ripen nicely.
1. This is probably the easiest method of all - just line up the unripe tomatoes on a sunny windowsill and wait for them to ripen on their own. Though super easy, this method works best for unripe but not fully green tomatoes. If the green tomatoes start to shrivel, it means that they need more humidity - try putting them in a plastic bag during the day and open it overnight.
Tip: place those tomatoes that are very close to being ripe closer to the window. The extra sun and warmth will help boost their flavor.
2. Have a bit more time to let your tomatoes ripen? Wrap the tomatoes in some paper; in 3-4 weeks, they’ll be all set to be included in a delicious salad. Newspaper, craft paper, old paper bags - all of them work equally well for this trick. Just wrap the green fruit in paper and store them in a dry, dark spot in your home.
Make sure to check the tomatoes every couple of days and discard any that start rotting. If you see signs of rot or mold before fully ripening, it could mean that the storage space is too humid.